ow that the last American combat soldier has walked across the desert out of Iraq, and the Obama administration seems poised to end our military involvement in Afghanistan over howls from the military's brass and war machine manufacturers, the question returns: What now for the men and women who fought those wars in our name?
Older combat veterans know, and younger veterans and their loved ones are finding out, that the battle for how to live out the rest of your life begins after you've come home and taken off your uniform for the last time, with your wounds, memories of your fallen comrades, and the agitation that makes a full night's sleep difficult without drink or drug long after the last firefight.
So the veterans who gathered at the California Democratic Party's Veterans Caucus meeting last week in San Diego were eager to find out what California's political leaders might do about the alarming rates of homelessness, unemployment, suicide, and disability among the state's veterans.
LA's the Homeless Capital for Veterans, Too
"We have unprecedented levels of homeless veterans in California," acknowledged California State Assembly Speaker John Perez, who convened the Democratic Party's meeting and who represents an impoverished district near downtown Los Angeles. "My district has among the highest levels of homelessness in California."
Nationwide, an estimated 76,000 veterans are homeless on a given night, with 130,000 spending at least one night in a homeless shelter, a growing number of them women veterans, according to David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times:
"Veterans make up 8% of the U.S. population, but almost 16% of homeless adults. Half of all homeless veterans suffer from mental illness, and two-thirds are substance abusers."
In Los Angeles County, about 7,400 veterans are homeless, including "about 1,415 veterans considered to be chronically homeless, meaning they have been homeless for at least a year and suffer from a serious health issue, mental illness or addiction."
In San Diego County, home to a huge US Navy presence and just down the road from the Marine Corps Camp Pendleton, 35%, or 3,000, of the county's 8,500 homeless are veterans.
Speaker Perez announced that the Assembly has taken $2 million out of its operating budget to help returning veterans, especially those from the California National Guard, admittedly a drop in the bucket with so many veterans living on our streets.
by Alex Newman
A controversial provision in the National Defense Authorization Bill that would “affirm” the President’s supposed power to wage perpetual war anywhere on Earth against undefined enemies — including Americans in the United States — is attracting fierce criticism from across the political spectrum.
The language was inserted into the bill by Rep. Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who unveiled it last week. President Obama never even requested the sweeping powers. In fact, the administration believes it already has all the authority it needs to wage the terror war.
But a coalition of advocates is now furiously attempting to downplay the measure’s significance, claiming it simply re-affirms the executive branch’s power to carry on the “War on Terror” for as long as there might be “terror” in the world. From the Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal, establishment media outlets are painting the proposed language as a harmless statement acknowledging that the terror war is legal.
by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica, and Daniel Zwerdling, NPR
During the past few decades, scientists have become increasingly persuaded that people who suffer brain injuries benefit from what is called cognitive rehabilitation therapy -- a lengthy, painstaking process in which patients relearn basic life tasks such as counting, cooking or remembering directions to get home.
Many neurologists, several major insurance companies and even some medical facilities run by the Pentagon agree that the therapy can help people whose functioning has been diminished by blows to the head.But despite pressure from Congress and the recommendations of military and civilian experts, the Pentagon's health plan for troops and many veterans refuses to cover the treatment -- a decision that could affect the tens of thousands of service members who have suffered brain damage while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There was a black-out and a white-out Thursday and Friday as over a hundred US veterans opposed to US wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world, and their civilian supporters, chained and tied themselves to the White House fence during an early snowstorm to say enough is enough.
Washington Police arrested 135 of the protesters, in what is being called the largest mass detention in recent years. Among those arrested were Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who used to provide the president’s daily briefings, Daniel Ellsberg, who released the government’s Pentagon Papers during the Nixon administration, and Chris Hedges, former war correspondent for the New York Times.No major US news media reported on the demonstration or the arrests. It was blacked out of the New York Times, blacked out of the Philadelphia Inquirer, blacked out in the Los Angeles Times, blacked out of the Wall Street Journal, and even blacked out of the capital’s local daily, the Washington Post, which apparently didn't even think it was a local story worth publishing.
In 2009 there were 160 active duty suicides, 239 suicides within the total Army including the Reserves, 146 active duty deaths from drug overdoses and high risk behavior and 1,713 suicide attempts. In addition to suicide, other out-of-character behavior like domestic violence is known to erupt from the drugs.
More troops are dying by their own hand than in combat, according to an Army report titled "Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, Suicide Prevention." Not only that, but 36 percent of the suicides were troops who were never deployed.
The unprecedented suicide rates are accompanied by an unprecedented rise in psychoactive drug rate among active duty-aged troops, 18 to 34, which is up 85 percent since 2003, according to the military health plan Tricare. Since 2001, 73,103 prescriptions for Zoloft have been dispensed, 38,199 for Prozac, 17,830 for Paxil and 12,047 for Cymbalta says Tricare 2009 data, which includes family prescriptions. All of the drugs carry a suicide warning label.
In addition to the leap in SSRI antidepressants, prescriptions for the anticonvulsants Topamax and Neurontin rose 56 percent in the same group since 2005, says Navy Times -- drugs the FDA warned last year double suicidal thinking in patients.
In fact, 4,994 troops at Fort Bragg are on antidepressants right now, says the Fayetteville Observer. Six-hundred-sixty-four are on an antipsychotics and "many soldiers take more than one type of medication."
by Aaron Glantz
by Aaron Glantz
PLEASANTON, California - More than 400 homeless veterans from across northern California relaxed in comfort at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton.
The occasion - a "Stand Down", where the homeless veterans were given access to good food, clean clothes, showers and beds.
A group of veterans stayed in camouflage canvas tents, met with employment counselors and even made their case to superior court judges, who prescribed modest penalties in exchange for dropping charges related to failed appearances on old warrants. Such warrants often started as unpaid traffic tickets, but the charges escalated as they were ignored.
"The good thing about the East Bay Stand Down is they can get the services they need," said Army Reserve Capt. Tonya Pacheco, who helped handle logistics for the event.
"If they need counseling – whatever they need it's available to them," she said. "A lot of veterans will have the opportunity to turn their lives around."
100,000 Homeless Vets
by Camillo "Mac" Bica,
Since the beginning of the 20th century, some 650,000 Americans have died fighting this country's many wars. Regardless of political affiliation and ideology, every American ought reverence such selfless sacrifice and understand and share the grief that this tragic loss of life entails. Though those of us who have known war hear the cries of the dying forever in our mind and suffer the pain and loss each day of our lives and need no holiday to remind us, Memorial Day is the occasion our nation sets aside to remember, to grieve and to honor those who have sacrificed their lives on behalf of "freedom."
Air shows, "exciting" demonstrations of the high tech, billion-dollar implements of war have become an increasingly popular way to "celebrate" Memorial Day in many parts of the country. The Southern Wisconsin Air fest and Missouri's Salute to Veterans 2010 are just two examples. Attracting thousands, in some cases tens of thousands, these extravaganzas have become prime locations for military recruitment. The Army's "Strength in Action Tour" regularly exploits such events "entertaining," "informing" and ultimately motivating young people to enlist. With its enormous budget, Army recruiters set up what is, for all intents and purposes, a mobile military circus and amusement arcade. Passersby, some as young as ten years old, need only provide their contact information into the Army database to receive an array of Army recruitment material and souvenirs - personalized dog tags, T-shirts, hats, footballs etc. Once registered, students are encouraged to become "Army Strong," that is, participate in interactive physical fitness events such as climbing the "US Army Rock Wall" ("strength of body," "rock strong"), "perform virtual music" on a stage in front of their peers ("strength to lead"), operate small remote control robotic devices known as Packbots through an obstacle course ("strength of technology"), "pilot" an Apache helicopter flight simulator ("strength to soar") or "participate in a fully immersive, adrenaline-pumping, highly realistic (Humvee) experience" in which they conduct a "virtual mission," engage "insurgents" and kill them ("strength of team").
by Barbara Barrett
Washington - Improvised bombs rattled former Army Spc. Adam Pittman a dozen times in his three tours in Iraq, most severely when his Bradley fighting vehicle ran over one hidden in the dirt in 2005.
Now, part of Pittman's brain has gone dormant, and on most days he can't think straight.
He leaves the room and forgets what he was searching for. He gets migraines so piercing that his right eye sometimes curls away from his left. Anger comes easily, inspiring rages that sometimes have his wife terrified for herself and their 3-year-old daughter.
Although Pittman, who lives in Lillington, N.C., left the military in July 2008 complaining of headaches and memory loss, it took nearly a year for him to get a brain scan and another five months to start getting temporary disability benefits.
"They were blowing me off," Pittman, 30, said of the Department of Veterans Affairs. "I feel like things that have to happen, they're dragging their feet on."
Nearly 30,000 veterans have suffered some kind of traumatic brain injury in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, an estimated 2,000 of them severe enough to put the warriors into comas or leave them with severe disabilities. Yet eight years into the wars, testimony before Congress shows that veterans still suffer yawning gaps in coverage for what's become the conflicts' signature wound.